Do You Have What it Takes to Win in the New Global Economy? (Part 1)

CTU Distinguished Lecturer - Rosa WhitakerAs part of CTU’s Distinguished Lecturer Series, Rosa Whitaker, one of Foreign Policy Magazine's Top 100 Global Thinkers and president of The Whitaker Group, shared her insights on seizing business opportunities in Africa via a live webinar. Following her presentation, we sat down with Ms. Whitaker to learn more about her personal journey to success.  

Professionals often struggle with finding a career path that gives them what they want – whether it’s financial gain, recognition, personal fulfillment, etc. What advice do you have for them?

People look at the career market and decide to do what’s in vogue. I think we should, instead, start with knowing what we were meant to do in life. We all have a calling and a purpose. It’s what gives inner fulfillment. For instance, I grew up wanting to alleviate poverty and make it history. That’s what led me to enterprise and business and Africa.

If I had switched to pursuing technology, at a time when many of my peers were doing so, I may have been a failure because it wasn’t a career path suited to my strengths or true purpose. My role has to do with Africa and the empowerment of its people. That’s the key to my success. I have combined my purpose with working hard, being intellectually curious, and staying aligned with what God would have me do. We come into this world to play a role and to change it for the better. When you find out why you were given life and what you enjoy doing, you will find your passion and purpose. It’s from this place that you will discover your career path.

Professional networking is an important part of career success, but is success just about the people you know?

Who you know is important but if you don’t know very much, you will be connected to people who don’t know very much too. What you know gives people a reason to invest their time in you. The more you know, the more you’re valued and the broader your network can become.

Let me share an example. I was working on my Bachelor’s in Political Science and as part of my undergraduate studies I spent two summers abroad – one semester in London and the other in Rome. This exposed me to different ways of doing things, fresh perspectives and new cultures. Those were foundational experiences that gave me an understanding of international issues.

Then in the late 80’s, I was 28 and working as the director of the Office of International Business for the city of Washington DC. The Deputy Secretary Lawrence Eagleburger, who later became Secretary of State, conducted town hall meetings for community leaders to talk about foreign policy. At one such town hall meeting, the subject was Eastern Europe and business opportunities related to the falling of barriers between Eastern and Western Europe. Even though we were there to talk about Eastern Europe, I was moved to ask what was being done to tap into Africa.

I may not have gotten his attention if, like everyone else there, I had asked about Europe. But I chose to be true to my purpose and that took courage because I was off topic and had approached the discussion from another angle. Had I not had a viewpoint, he may not have noticed me. This was my first encounter with him and, as it turned out, I had value that was of interest to the deputy secretary, which prompted him to personally recruit me into the foreign services. He helped me prepare for the Foreign Service exam, even providing one of his staff persons to guide me through the process. Besides it being divine orchestration, it had to do with preparation and staying true to purpose.

Secondly, success isn’t just rooted in who you know and what you know but how you treat people whom you cross paths with. It’s important to be kind to every one you encounter, especially since you never know who the catalyst to success will be.

I have a Master’s of Public Administration (MPA) but if I had to do it all over again, I would have done an MBA with a focus on finance or economics. It is much more relevant to global challenges and the world we live in. In my MPA program, I took economics classes but also studied it as part of diplomatic training.

One thing that I like about CTU is that you really focus on practical preparation. I think that’s very important. I see a really good, natural focus of practical preparation. I mean, when I look at your school, this is one of the more focused institutions that I’ve seen.

You can never plan for an opportunity, so it’s better to stay prepared. 

Clearly knowledge is an important part of your success, which has us curious. What is on your bookshelf?

I’ve read a lot of books, but the ones I’ve drawn the most inspiration and knowledge from are these five:

 Click here to read Part 2